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Bilingualism and Second-Language Learning

This chapter provides a broad overview of the findings from research on bilingualism and second-language learning, including types of bilingualism, linguistic aspects of second-language acquisition, language shift, and classroom environments for second-language learning. Further, it analyzes the implications of these findings for the education of English-language learners in the United States. By necessity, a broad overview of these rich traditions involves a high level of synthesis. This review draws liberally from several existing syntheses, which can be consulted for further details (Baetens-Beardsmore, 1986; Bialystok and Hakuta, 1994; Grosjean, 1982; Hakuta, 1986; Hamers and Blanc, 1989; Klein, 1986; Larsen-Freeman and Long, 1990; McLaughlin, 1984, 1985; and Romaine, 1995).

FINDINGS

This review begins by distinguishing the various types of bilingualism. It then briefly examines the consequences of bilingualism. The third section looks at linguistic aspects of acquiring a second language, while the fourth addresses individual differences in second-language acquisition. Language shift—in which ethnic minority groups shift their primary language to that of the dominant majority—is then examined. The final section reviews findings on educational conditions for second-language learning.



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2 Bilingualism and Second-Language Learning This chapter provides a broad overview of the findings from research on bilingualism and second-language learning, including types of bilingualism, linguistic aspects of second-language acquisition, language shift, and classroom environments for second-language learning. Further, it analyzes the implications of these findings for the education of English-language learners in the United States. By necessity, a broad overview of these rich traditions involves a high level of synthesis. This review draws liberally from several existing syntheses, which can be consulted for further details (Baetens-Beardsmore, 1986; Bialystok and Hakuta, 1994; Grosjean, 1982; Hakuta, 1986; Hamers and Blanc, 1989; Klein, 1986; Larsen-Freeman and Long, 1990; McLaughlin, 1984, 1985; and Romaine, 1995). FINDINGS This review begins by distinguishing the various types of bilingualism. It then briefly examines the consequences of bilingualism. The third section looks at linguistic aspects of acquiring a second language, while the fourth addresses individual differences in second-language acquisition. Language shift—in which ethnic minority groups shift their primary language to that of the dominant majority—is then examined. The final section reviews findings on educational conditions for second-language learning.

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Types of Bilingualism Bilingualism is pervasive throughout the world, but there is considerable variation in (1) the conditions under which people become bilingual, (2) the uses they have for their various languages, and (3) the societal status of the languages. For example, in postcolonial Africa, students may be educated in English or French while another language is spoken in the home, and yet another (e.g., Swahili in eastern Africa) may be used in public encounters and institutional settings, such as the courts (Fishman, 1978). In officially bilingual countries such as Switzerland, children use one language at home and for most schooling, but are expected to acquire competence in at least one other official language; thus in Switzerland, French and German are of equivalent social status and importance to success. Yet another set of conditions is created in bilingual households, where parents who are native speakers of two different languages choose to use both in the home. Finally, in other contexts bilingualism is often the product of migration. Immigrants frequently continue to use their native language—which may be of low status and not institutionally supported—at home, and learn the dominant language of their new society only as required for work, public encounters, or schooling. The children of such families may end up fully bilingual, bilingual with the new language dominant, or having little knowledge of the parental language. They are the children of particular interest in this report. A number of typologies of bilingualism follow. A major distinction among these typologies is that some focus their explanation of second-language acquisition at the individual and others at the societal level. Individual Level Weinreich (1953) theorized a distinction among compound, coordinate, and subordinate bilinguals, who differ in the way words in their languages relate to underlying concepts. In the compound form, the two languages represent the same concept, whereas in the coordinate form, the concepts themselves are independent and parallel. In the subordinate form, the weaker language is represented through the stronger language. Researchers also distinguish at the individual level between simultaneous and sequential bilingualism: the former begins from the onset of language acquisition, while the latter begins after about age 5, when the basic components of first-language knowledge are in place (McLaughlin, 1984). In the sequential type, a distinction is made between early and late bilinguals, according to the age at which second-language acquisition occurred (Genesee et al., 1978).

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Later in this report we discuss whether different types of education programs might result in qualitatively different types of individual bilinguals. Findings suggest, by and large, that bilingualism attained under different conditions of exposure will not differ in the ways language is organized with respect to cognitive structures. Social Level Typologies of bilingualism based on societal variables have focused mainly on the prestige and status of the languages involved. Fishman et al. (1966) draw a distinction between "folk" and "elite" bilingualism, referring to the social status of the bilingual group. The "folk" are immigrants and linguistic minorities who exist within the milieu of a dominant language that is not their own and whose own language is not held in high esteem within the society. The "elite" are those who speak the dominant language and whose societal status is enhanced through the mastery of additional languages. As Fishman observes, "Many Americans have long been of the opinion that bilingualism is 'a good thing' if it was acquired via travel (preferably to Paris) or via formal education (preferably at Harvard) but that it is a 'bad thing' if it was acquired from one's immigrant parents or grandparents" (pp. 122-123). Similarly, Lambert (1975) distinguishes "additive" from "subtractive" bilingualism. This distinction relates to the effect of learning a second language on the retention of the native language. In additive bilingualism, the native language is secure, and the second language serves as an enrichment. Canadian French immersion programs for the English-speaking majority are a prime example of additive bilingualism since native English speakers maintain their English and add French. In subtractive bilingualism, the native language is less robust; society assumes that it will be used only temporarily until replaced by the dominant language as the group assimilates. Most immigrants to the United States, Canada, and Australia experience subtractive bilingualism; their skills in their native languages erode over time, and English becomes their dominant language (see also the discussion of language shift later in this chapter). These broader social distinctions help explain why programs that seem quite similar can have such divergent effects in different social settings—for example, why an immersion program in Canada succeeds in teaching French to English-speaking students who continue to maintain full proficiency in English and to function at a high academic level, while an immersion program to teach English to Spanish-speaking immigrants in

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the United States often results in both a shift to monolingualism in English and academic failure. Consequences of Bilingualism A commonly expressed fear about childhood bilingualism is that it could confuse the child, both linguistically and cognitively. However, Peal and Lambert (1962), widely credited for introducing important controls in studies that compare monolinguals with bilinguals, describe a bilingual child as "a youngster whose wider experiences in two cultures have given him advantages which a monolingual does not enjoy. Intellectually his experience with two language systems seems to have left him with a mental flexibility, a superiority in concept formation, a more diversified set of mental abilities" (p. 20). The results of other studies have typically supported Peal and Lambert's claims that bilingual groups are superior on a variety of measures of cognitive skill, such as nonverbal reasoning and awareness of language structure (Duncan and DeAvila, 1979; Galambos and Hakuta, 1988; Hakuta, 1987; see Reynolds, 1991, for a review). Another tradition of research comes from case studies of individual children exposed to two languages at home. Generally, these studies (Ronjat, 1913; Leopold, 1939, 1947, 1949a, 1949b) suggest that children can become productive bilinguals in a variety of language-use settings, though exposure to a language for less than 20 hours a week does not seem sufficient for a child to produce words in that language, at least up to age 3 (Pearson et al., 1997). Very few cases of what might be considered language confusion are reported. Linguistic Aspects of Second-Language Acquisition The theoretical and empirical work in second-language acquisition serves as the basis for defining what one means by "proficiency" in a second language. Some researchers have defined it narrowly around the control of grammatical rules, others around the ability to use language in accomplishing cognitive tasks, and still others around the social and communicative aspects of language. What is clear is that second-language acquisition is a complex process requiring a diverse set of explanatory factors (Bialystok and Hakuta, 1994). Developing an inclusive theory of how a second language is acquired necessitates both the description of how specific domains of proficiency are acquired and an explanation of how acquisition mecha-

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nisms work together to produce the integrated knowledge of a language that enables its use for communication. An important conclusion that is shared by all research perspectives is the rejection of behaviorist theories of language that emphasize the role of variables such as frequency of occurrence, time on task, and the motivational state of the learner in shaping the learning process. A second important dimension of second-language acquisition is the extent of involvement of the native language in the acquisition process. Today most researchers believe language transfer plays a role in second-language acquisition (Bialystok and Hakuta, 1994; Odlin, 1989), perhaps being more evident in the quantitative (speed of acquisition) rather than qualitative (e.g., types of errors and patterns of acquisition) aspects of the process (Odlin, 1989). That is, it takes longer to learn a language that is typologically very different from the native language than one that is relatively similar. For example, it would be easier for a native English speaker to learn French than Chinese. A third dimension of importance in the acquisition of a second language is the age and concomitant cognitive skills of the second-language learner. These and other factors are discussed in the next section. Individual Differences in Second-Language Acquisition The most striking fact about second-language learning, especially as compared with first-language learning, is the variability in outcomes. Many individual and group variables have been examined in attempts to explain success or failure in second-language acquisition. Age of Learning One frequently cited factor is the age of the learner, with the assumption that younger learners acquire a second language more quickly and with a higher level of proficiency. Periodic reviews of this literature (Bialystok and Hakuta, 1994; Collier, 1987; Epstein et al., 1996; Harley and Wang, 1997; Krashen et al., 1982; Long, 1990; Snow, 1987) have not supported this claim very well. Supporters of the critical period for second-language acquisition frequently refer to the literature on first-language acquisition, such as studies of children with severe and extreme linguistic isolation in early childhood. It is important to note that even though there may be a critical period in the learning of a first language, this does not necessarily imply that there is such a period for learning additional languages.

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The research provides no clear-cut answers to guide decisions on when English should be taught because younger learners do not necessarily acquire a second language more quickly than older learners. Individual differences account for this variation. For example, children with weak first-language skills will not acquire their second language as quickly as those with more developed skills (Cummins, 1984; Hakuta, 1987). Intelligence Another factor in second-language acquisition may be general intelligence. This factor has been studied mainly in the arena of foreign-language learning in the classroom (Carroll, 1986; Gardner, 1983; Oller, 1981). For immigrant learners and those in immersion settings, research findings suggest that second-language learning is not impeded by learning disabilities or low intelligence to the extent it would be in formal learning settings such as classrooms (Bruck, 1982, 1984; see Genesee, 1992, for a review). In the field of bilingual education, second-language acquisition has not been tied to questions of general aptitude, although educational practitioners commonly observe that second-language acquisition is easier for students with a history of formal education and higher socioeconomic backgrounds. Furthermore, correlational studies examining relative proficiencies in the two languages of bilingual children show that native-language proficiency is a strong predictor of second-language development (Cummins, 1984; Hakuta, 1987). Attitudes It is clear that attitude and motivation are important factors in second-language learning in some contexts, such as for students who are studying a foreign language in the classroom. Yet the few studies that have looked at the importance of these factors in the acquisition of English among immigrants to the United States have had largely negative findings. For example, Hakuta and D'Andrea (1992) found that Mexican-American attitudes toward English and Spanish did not predict English proficiency. In sociolinguistic settings such as the United States, it is likely that any variation in the attitudes of immigrant populations toward English will be largely overridden by the overwhelming importance of English to getting ahead in the society.

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Personality Many studies have attempted to isolate factors related to individual predisposition, over and above basic intelligence, toward second-language acquisition. Most of this work is focused on learning a foreign language rather than on learning a language in the society where it is used. Given the inordinate difficulty of validly measuring personality constructs cross-culturally, this is probably not a very fruitful area for future research, although it will continue to be a source of speculation because of its intrinsic interest. Language Shift Language shift occurs when an ethnic group gradually changes its preference and use of language from its original ethnic language to the sociologically dominant language. The evidence for a rapid shift to English among immigrants in the United States is well noted (Lieberson et al., 1975). The shift from non-English to English may occur both intra-individually and intergenerationally. That is, during the course of their lifetime, individuals shift their primary-language preference from their native language to English, and ethnolinguistic communities in successive generations likewise shift their linguistic preference. Ethnographic studies, as well as large-scale demographic information (Fishman et al., 1966; Lopez, 1978; Veltman, 1983), suggest that bilinguals in the United States show a strong preference for English in many conversational situations and that this preference is translated into a monolingual English upbringing for their offspring. In addition, although the consistent choice of English can lead to increased proficiency in English, it also leads to decreased proficiency in the native language, even for an adult speaker (Seliger and Vago, 1991). Classroom Environments and Second-Language Learning This section reviews studies on classroom environments and their relationship to second-language learning. Researchers have examined recurring features of classroom interaction hypothesized to be relevant to students' development of a second language (van Lier, 1988; Ellis, 1984). Others have begun to offer detailed pictures of how the student's two languages are used in elementary-grade bilingual classrooms (e.g.,

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Enright, 1982; Milk, 1990; Shultz, 1975). These studies generally do not link classroom communication and the learning of linguistic features or report outcome data with respect to English acquisition or native-language development. However, they have clarified what might be meant by comprehensible input1 (Krashen, 1982; Long, 1983; Pica, 1987) and have shown that English tends to predominate in most classrooms in terms of messages conveyed and frequency of use. Other studies have looked more generally at the effects of English-only and bilingual school environments on the overall language and cognitive development of English-language learners. Paul and Jarvis (1992), for example, compared English-language learners in bilingual and monolingual prekindergarten classrooms, and found positive outcomes for the children in the bilingual classrooms on a criterion-referenced test, the Chicago Early Assessment and Remediation Laboratory (EARLY). An evaluation study of the Carpinteria Preschool Program, in which classroom activities were carried out exclusively in Spanish, shows similarly positive effects of first-language use on second-language acquisition (Campos, 1995). Such studies point to the importance of understanding the linguistic environments of institutional settings that serve as the primary base for second-language acquisition. It is critically important to understand preschool environments for two major reasons. First, during the preschool years, language development itself is a major outcome of interest. The few studies reviewed suggest that the development of the native language and of English for English-language learners are interdependent—that programs to develop the native language also serve to promote the acquisition of English (Ramirez et al., 1991)—but additional work is needed in this area. Second, there are increasing calls for the expansion of high-quality preschool opportunities for all children (e.g., Carnegie Corporation, 1996). A critical ingredient in defining quality is the linguistic environment of these programs. This represents a window of opportunity for research to make a difference for a large number of programs and children. 1    Comprehensible input might be equated with adjustments similar to those parents make when talking with young children, such as organizing talk around visible referents, using gestures, using simple syntax, producing many repetitions and paraphrases, speaking slowly and clearly, checking often for comprehension, and expanding on and extending topics introduced by the learner.

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IMPLICATIONS Educational All English-language learners acquire English. However, there is considerable variation in the rate of second-language acquisition due to individual and societal factors. Individual factors that promote second-language acquisition include a history of formal education and higher socioeconomic background, the extent of native-language proficiency, and similarity between the student's native language and the language being acquired. Bilingualism, far from impeding the child's overall cognitive or linguistic development, leads to positive growth in these areas. Programs whose goals are to promote bilingualism should do so without fear of negative consequences. English-language learners who develop their native-language proficiency do not compromise their acquisition of English. The social climate in the United States overwhelmingly results in the dominance of English and quickly restricts the native languages of immigrants to a limited range of uses, and usually only to the first generation. Any language policy or program that attempts to develop bilingualism will have to take these larger societal trends into consideration. Research Although we have some research-based information on individual and group factors that account for variation in second-language acquisition, more work is needed, particularly on group factors. An important contribution to understanding variability in second-language acquisition would be an enhanced understanding of the components of English proficiency and how these components interact. Also important is the question of how proficiencies in the two languages of bilinguals are interrelated and how language and other domains of human functioning interact. Assessment of second-language learners should involve analysis of unstructured, spontaneous speech in addition to more structured instruments. An important research goal is thus to create a common pool of spontaneous speech data for use by researchers. Macro-level questions about language shift in the United States have amply demonstrated the short-lived nature of non-English languages. Research is also needed to help understand the dynamics of language shift.

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COGNITIVE ASPECTS OF SCHOOL LEARNING: KEY FINDINGS Research to date on the cognitive aspects of how children acquire literacy and content area knowledge in school has yielded the following key findings: Future successful readers typically arrive at school with a set of prior experiences and well-established skills conducive to literacy, including an understanding of literacy, abstract knowledge of the sound and structure of language, a certain level of vocabulary development, and oral connected discourse skills. In terms of English-language learners, there is considerable variability among ethnic or language groups in home literacy practices; some minimal ability to segment spoken language into phonemic units is a prerequisite to beginning to read, and bilingualism promotes this ability; English vocabulary is a primary determinant of reading comprehension; and there are positive correlations between English second-language oral proficiency and reading ability, particularly at higher grade levels, but not equally across all first-language groups. Early instruction is impacted by lack of explicit instruction in the local orthography, absence of background knowledge and skills acquired in highly literate environments, and lack of semantic support for decoding that comes from familiarity with the words one reads. With regard to reading instruction in a second language, there is remarkably little direct relevant research. Studies of the nature of what can be transferred from first- to second-language reading need to take into account not only the level of first-language reading, but also the level and content of the second-language reading material. English-language learners may encounter difficulties in reading because of limited access to word meanings in English and novel rhetorical structures. Different subjects have different core structures; there are multiple kinds of knowledge—knowledge of ideas and facts, as well as knowledge of how to do something; and prior knowledge plays a significant role in learning. The above five conclusions suggest that literacy assessments alone are not adequate measures for understanding specific subject matter knowledge; certain disciplines may lend themselves more easily to the transfer of knowledge across languages, depending on the structure of knowledge within the domain; studies of the subject matter specificity of learning and issues surrounding different classes of knowledge suggest the difficulty of providing high-quality instruction designed for English-language learners; and the way content learned in one language is accessed in a second is of concern since depth, interconnectness, and accessibility of prior knowledge dramatically influence the processing of new information.